GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LAMB OF GOD!
TEXT: I Cor. 11: 17-34
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
If a pastor, or a congregation, wishes to be faithful to Christ in every way they can, the Lord’s Supper serves as the inflection point. It was true at the time of St. Paul and it is just as true today. That’s one of the major reasons we have “communion registration” before the service. It is designed to help penitent sinners prepare their hearts and souls to receive Christ in communion’s intimate way while at the same time trying to keep someone who has unresolved issues with God and man from harming their souls. To be sure, we humans cannot read hearts. We cannot determine exactly what a person believes or how they understand our joint confession of Christ. But the buck finally stops with the Pastor who hands out the body and blood of Christ at the altar to those desiring it. And as a Pastor ultimately I’m accountable to God for you. This has given rise to what is known in our circles as: “close communion” or “closed communion.” And lest you think such an approach is new to the church, scholarship has determined that it was already practiced in the early church by those whom Paul had trained.
In our modern age most churches have adopted what we call “open communion.” That is, anyone and everyone is welcomed at their altars. Those churches refuse to ascertain whether or not the recipient is engaged in open sin, or if they confess Christ as the only Way to eternal life as the Only Begotten Son of God, or whether they are receiving the actual body and blood of Christ, hidden under bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins. For example, I’ve had “Lutherans” who wanted to commune reject Christ’s real presence, calling it only a “memorial meal.” It made them feel good to believe that, but they didn’t believe that in the Supper they actually received from Christ forgiveness for their sins! I’ve had people who were living in an open sin, not believing repentance for it was necessary, want to commune, too. Not wanting them to be judged for their ignorant uncaringness, I’ve had to tell them: “No, you should wait and let’s work towards repentance first.” After all, giving Christ’s forgiveness to an unrepentant heart only hardens them in their sin and says: “It’s o.k.” I’ve had Alzheimer’s patients and the mentally infirm whom I did not commune.—How could they examine themselves when their minds were gone? Yes, the situations that arise are endless when it comes to communing people. The liberal Christian doesn’t worry about these things. Basically, they don’t care because communion isn’t about Godly truth to them. It is only about human feelings. But, as our lesson clearly states, holy communion is all about God’s “forgiveness of sins.”
The Christians in Corinth had a problem, actually many problems. Paul gives us an overview: “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.” Division and discord in the church is to be expected. After all, we’re all sinners and Satan works extra hard on us. But recall when Christ tells the people in the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” When we commune we offer God the gift of our heart. If it is crowded by discord, refrain from communing until it is resolved. The Pastor’s job is to help make that cleansing action happen. Paul was a good Pastor. So what follows in his directives is all about such situations.
At Corinth people brought bread and wine to be used when communion occurred. Some felt since they brought it, they got to each and drink the majority of it. Drunkenness resulted. Hurt feelings resulted. As Paul states elsewhere: “It was not done decently and in good order.” Others did not believe in the real presence of Christ hidden under the bread and wine. They viewed it only as a “love feast” mimicking our “touchy-feely” society today. Others were not yet fully instructed, confirmed, in their faith and didn’t really grasp the reality of Christ’s forgiveness offered to them in this personal way. Hence Paul’s statement: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” This judgment was not eternal damnation. Paul makes it pretty clear that it meant earthly and spiritual consequences would result from such a lackadaisical attitude. The word used here for “examine” is the same one used throughout the New Testament for candidates for the ministry being examined for their aptitude. Mental and spiritual acuity are necessary. That’s why we don’t commune young children, some Alzheimer’s patients and the like. It’s done out of love, not anger, retribution, or being humanly judgmental.
For all these reasons and more we’ve adopted “close communion” over the centuries. We want the “unity of the Spirit and the bond of real peace” to be promoted and strengthened by the Supper. Being told to “wait a bit until this or that issue can be ironed out” isn’t a bad thing, it is simply Christian honesty.
And the ultimate honesty of communion is this: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrace of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
That’s a command of God. It is a command to the Church to: consecrate the elements for holy use with Christ’s very words of institution, to distribute those elements to needy, repentant hearts, and for them to receive them not only with their hearts but with their mouths. This isn’t just a touchy-feely “spiritual eating” it is a physical eating. It reminds us very graphically that our physical Savior died for us and that His physical body and physical blood paid for our sins. And every single time we do exactly what Jesus’ outlines, we boldly proclaim His glorious death in our place. Moreover every time we leave the altar rail we also boldly proclaim that His resurrection to a new life is now ours, as well!
Well, there you have it. That concludes our short DO’S AND DON’TS CONCERNING THE LORD’S SUPPER. Amen